From the 1960s onwards Danish women entered the labour market in huge numbers. Gender roles were still the same in the home, however, and women have been beleaguered with dual work ever since. Get the facts and the figures here
By Katarina Blomqvist, 2006
One key element of the gender debate in the 1960s was the conflict of interests between traditional housewives and modern women with jobs outside the home. The ideal unit of the 1950s had been the nuclear family: father at work, mother at home, a couple of charming children. But, with small families living in modern apartments serviced by new electrical household appliances, housework was no longer so time-consuming, and many young housewives were getting bored.
The 1960s in Denmark was a period of robust economic growth and society as a whole was becoming ever more prosperous. Working capacity had to be increased to keep up with demand – and so women poured onto the labour market. Two incomes led to an improved standard of living: a larger home, maybe a small detached house, car, television, freezer and holidays in the sun. Paid employment also provided women with new prospects to realise personal potential and, not least, to earn their own income.
Not everyone, however, welcomed these new opportunities with open arms. Traditional housewives maintained that a woman’s proper place was in the home, and that her most important job was that of bringing up the children. They saw their role as safeguarding the family and providing a balance to the stress and materialism of men’s working lives, contending that without the support of mothers who stayed at home, the rising generation would be poorly equipped to function as stable citizens.
In the early stages of the debate, working women acknowledged misgivings about putting paid employment before family, but they were soon joined by younger women who had no such scruples about the new era.
In 1963 a group of young women in Copenhagen set up a youth section of the Danish Women’s Society. They contributed to the debate between traditional housewives and modern working women by, for example, calling the housewives “a social abnormity”.
In 1964 The Feminine Mystique, by American writer Betty Friedan, was published in a Danish translation; the book was a forceful attack on the traditional family structure of housewife mother and breadwinning father. Friedan claimed that the nuclear family oppressed housewives both financially and socially.
In the main, women who entered the labour market in the 1960s had no vocational training; they were unskilled workers and many took jobs in industry and the public sector. As women no longer had time to look after children and elderly family members at home, local authority services were expanded to include kindergartens, after-school centres, a home help scheme and care for senior citizens; many women found employment in these new institutions.
Initially, women’s entry to the labour market had no radical impact on gender roles in the family. In the majority of families it was still father who earned the most and mother who took care of the household chores. Women’s double work load was, however, a source of frustration, and the division of labour between men and women in the home became one of the most hotly-debated issues of the 1970s.
Housewives and other women outside the workforce – percentage of all women
No. of women in the workforce and percentage of women in the total workforce
|Year||No of Women||% of total workforce|